Environments In Science Fiction: Essays On Alternative Spaces edited by Susan M. Bernardo (book review)

With some books, I’m never quite sure what the subject matter is about until I start reading it. In this case, the ten essays that encase ‘Environments In Science Fiction: Essays On Alternative Spaces’ is supposed to fall under the category of ‘ecoscience fiction. That is ecology rather than environment. You can see the confusion.


Thing is, though, the book doesn’t really do that. Yes, they writers concerned don’t go over the usual suspects. So you won’t find any desertions on…er…Akrakis from ‘Dune’ or even Ursula LeGuin’s ‘Left Hand Of Darkness’ planet ‘Winter’, although her ‘The Word For World Is Forest’s planet Athshe gets a mention, even if they still stand as an example of 60s SF harsh planetary environments.

Instead, we have the likes of Marge Piercy’s ‘He, She, It’, Melanie Scott’s ‘Trouble With Her Friends’, Karl Capek’s ‘War With The Newts’, Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’, Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Calcutta Chromosome, Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep’ and George Orwell’s ‘1984. Other than the classics, there are several here I haven’t read and I’m fairly well read.

The real problem comes from extensive synopses and, in some cases, several repetitions which tends to make me wonder if these writers got stuck as to what to write or even do full analysis. They might not even have understood the requirements of the brief neither. None of this is helped by the fact that I come away from this book saying I’ve learnt anything other than a reminder how different ‘Blade Runner’ film was from the original novel and that the owl and some names were the strongest connection it. With ‘The Road’, even though I’ve only ever saw the film, it looks like the book shares the flaw of how long can these people survive in a land with so long between meals.

Whether this book will encourage you to seek these books out, only you can decide. I think, just in case more books in this series are going along such lines, the editors need to remind their writers not to take the safe option and really do thought-provoking discussion.

GF Willmetts

February 2015

(pub: McFarland. 195 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £33.50 (UK), $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-78647-579-7)

check out websites: www.mcfarlandpub.com and www.eurospanbookstore.com

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